Author Archive

Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Angela Davis

Part III of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

“Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’” – Angela Davis

As a professor, author, and revolutionary, Angela Davis’s life has been about teaching. With her academic prowess, organizing ability, and bravery she has been a teacher to many. She has spread her intersectional feminism and anti-prison messages, against powerful opposition, to generations of activists. No matter the obstacle, she has refused to be silenced.

In the 1960s she was a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego working with the Black Panthers and an all-black wing of the Communist Party. She was later hired to teach at UCLA, but then governor Ronald Reagan pushed for her firing because of her association with communism. She took the Board of Regents to court and won her job back.

But by 1970 she had a new mission. She had long been fighting against the prison-industrial complex and its injustices against the black population. Davis supported the Soledad Brothers, three black inmates charged with murdering a white guard. At their trial, Jonathan Jackson attempted to help the brothers escape, but the resulting shootout left the defendants and a judge dead. Though Davis wasn’t present, she had corresponded with the brothers and owned the guns involved, leading the FBI to place her on the Most Wanted List. Weeks later she was arrested and referred to by President Nixon as a terrorist. An international movement grew to support her release. After sixteen months in jail she was granted bail and an all-white jury eventually found her not-guilty on all counts.

Davis went on to teach at San Francisco State University, UC Santa Cruz, Rutgers University, and Syracuse University. She has spoken around the world and also published many books on a range of subjects connected to race, gender, and justice. In her books like Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Davis brings an oft-ignored history of black women into the public eye.

Davis’s writing is intersectional, undoing legacies of racism and sexism deep in our collective history. She looks at how systems of oppression do not exist separately but are all connected. To her, liberation means everyone, so black movements cannot leave out women and feminist movements cannot leave out black women. She elevates the stories of black women who have been oppressed, just as she was, but deserve to be heard. As she explains in Ava DuVernay’s documentary, 13th, “the whole apparatus of the state was set up against me.” But figures who tried to keep her down (Reagan, Nixon, and J. Edgar Hoover, to name a few) are all gone now. Angela Davis is still here, still fighting, still teaching.



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The Cycle of Criminalization in U.S. Immigration Policy

Last week, visitors from the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) joined us at the Quixote Center for a conversation on migrant detention and the prison-industrial complex. We discussed the brutality of ICE, the injustice of Operation Streamline, and the expansion of private prisons. But there was one topic we kept coming back to: the cycle of criminalization.

The narrative we have heard from the current administration portrays Central American immigrants as violent gang members who bring crime to our country and must be deported. In his State of the Union address, Trump called on Congress “to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminal gangs to break into our country.” His scare tactics are designed to stoke racist, anti-immigrant sentiment. His claims are also wildly misleading.

MS-13 is not a foreign threat and it is not a major danger to the United States. The gang began in Los Angeles in the 1980s, with the early group of teenagers looking for community, not violence. Many of them were the children of immigrants from El Salvador, a country that had been rocked by unrest and a civil war heavily funded by the U.S. government. But the Los Angeles police force launched massive “anti-gang” operations during that time that put many of these teens into the prison system.

As The Washington Post put it, “those sweeps, part of a militaristic zero-tolerance response to the nation’s social problems, failed to acknowledge that such problems were the direct result of underfunded social programs and systemic marginalization. Instead of serving as a deterrent, they further weakened social ties and increased exclusion, and thus facilitated the transformation and consolidation of MS-13 into a serious criminal enterprise.”

The situation was worsened by the Clinton administration, whose immigration policy deported thousands and sent the gang members back to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Once there, they faced similarly harsh policing and few opportunities outside of their gang. Their violence now drives many to the U.S. as a means of escape and the cycle continues.

MS-13 was not just formed in the United States, it exists precisely because of the United States. A U.S. funded war gave rise to their displacement. A militarized police force branded them criminals. The prison system gave them few options. Deportation gave them fewer.

But this story of criminalization is not limited to MS-13 members. Our current system treats all but a certain elite category of immigrants as criminals. ICE sends undocumented people to detention centers where they can be held indefinitely in high-security facilities. When they are deported back to their country of origin, stigma often follows. Many assume that detention and deportation in the U.S. are indicative of criminal behavior. It may be harder for the deported person to get a job or regain community trust when they have been seen as a criminal, so they may end up in prison again.

By criminalizing immigration, we are not just being inhumane, we are also participating in a cycle where the most severe consequences fall outside our borders. Despite political rhetoric, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the U.S. born population. Meanwhile, violence increases in the Northern Triangle, with El Salvador becoming the world’s most violent country not at war. Our prison-industrial complex is not just a failed response to crime, it is a breeding ground for it. When immigrant populations flee violence that we helped to create it is our duty to provide sanctuary, not jail cells. But the path we walk now is an endless loop of violence. 

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Addressing Hate Incidents at Maryland Colleges

On February 8th I had the privilege of testifying in front of the Maryland House Appropriations Committee in support of bill HB0511. The bill, sponsored by Del. Angela Angel, is designed to track and document hate-bias incidents at Maryland’s public colleges.

As a student at the University of Maryland, I have seen the need for this bill firsthand. Last year our campus saw swastika graffiti, multiple nooses, white nationalist posters, and a confederate flag etching. At least 27 incidents occurred in the last semester, alone. Most painfully, Bowie State student Richard Collins was murdered because of his race.

It is this context, a campus where white supremacy manifests in symbols and in violence, that demands action. Currently hate bias-incident protocol is weak at Maryland public colleges. Del. Angel’s bill would require schools to provide detailed reports of the incidents to the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The bill would also require an electronic crime alert notification system to include notification of hate-bias incidents. In addition, it would establish anti-hate bias training for incoming freshmen.

I believe this bill represents common sense steps to track and prevent hate-bias. That is why I went to Annapolis to testify with other college students who saw the need for change. It was powerful to witness the bravery of students who experienced hate firsthand and came to speak. The legislators in attendance were visibly moved by their stories.

I am hopeful that this bill will be the first step in making Maryland colleges safer and more just, especially for students of color. To testify alongside other young people fighting for change was a heartening experience.

I also wrote a column for the University of Maryland newspaper, The Diamondback, in support of the legislation that can be found here. This was my final thought:

 The personal and institutional forces of racism that create a culture of hate crimes also work to dismiss the victims. We must start seeing incomplete data on hate crimes and the crimes themselves as part of a larger injustice. In addition to leaving marginalized students vulnerable, a lack of data allows the issue to be dismissed by those who don’t see, or choose to ignore, the true scope of racism today. Angel’s is the first step in a bigger fight.

Real transparency is, and always has been, necessary for justice. That is why, in response to the murder of [Richard] Collins, students from Bowie State and this university painted a unity mural. The mural, meant to symbolize racial justice, now hangs in the Maryland State House as a vibrant reminder to our legislators. Student artist Aerika Anderson said the mural was based in part on the question, “Where do we go from here?” Angel’s bill offers us a worthwhile answer.

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